The best looking F1 car ever

Posted: March 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

Every week I speak to the treasurers of 10 different countries in the Americas.  We speak about what is going on there, the bank, the economy, the country.  It’s great – these countries are all so different from each other and the people are all different too with their own unique experiences and perspectives. At the end of each call, we usually spend a few minutes going over what our view is on the rest of the world and how it impacts or may impact on them.

For the last few months this part of the conversation has been dominated by food and energy prices.  Most of these countries are ’emerging markets’ which is one of those horrible catch-all phrases that basically covers ‘second’ and ‘third world’ countries (oh, look – more horrible generalisations! – yes, American computer, generalisation is spelt with an s, not a z).  In these markets, food price inflation can mean everything to the economy – even to the extent it can cause governments to fall.

In these countries – generally – people spend a higher percentage of their disposable income on food.  In 2006, Americans spent 6.1% of their disposal income on food at home.  UK 8.3%, Germany 10.9%, Japan 13.4%. Indians spent 39.4%, Indonesians 49.9%.  It makes sense – you need to eat to live and if you have less money to start with you’ll spend a higher percentage of it on food.

Food is not as incrementally as expensive when comparing ‘poor’ to ‘rich’ countries as the difference between how comparatively poor and rich those countries are to begin with.  Put another way, if a loaf of bread costs “1” is a third world country, it may cost “3” in a first world country, but the average disposable income in that first world country may be “100” compared to “10” in the third world country. So if the price of a loaf of bread increases by “1” for both then it has a far smaller effect on how much disposable income remains in the first world country (100-3-1=96, or a ~1% decrease) than in the third world country (10-1-1=8, or an ~11% decrease).

So when this happens

it’s a pretty serious problem for a lot of the world.

So, what happened to food prices?  Well, less supply and same demand equals higher prices. Torrential rains in Canada restricted the supply of oats – Canada supplies 80% of the world’s oats by the way. Unseasonably hot weather in some parts of Europe and heavy rain in other parts mean that European wheat prices are up from €120 per tonne in April 2010 to over €200 per tonne today.  Monsoon rains affected storage of wheat in India – the world’s second largest wheat producer. Russia’s worst drought in 130 years destroyed a fifth of the land sown for grain and the Russian government reacts by restricting export supply, worried about the supply available at home. In August 2010 Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan – yeah, read through that list of countries again – launch grain tenders (‘if you’ve got supply then we’ll buy it’) to replace the rapidly decreasing supply from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.  They said at the time that they were not desperately concerned as they expected better than forecast supply towards the end of the year.  They were wrong.

When an increasing percentage of the population can no longer afford food things tend to reach a breaking point quite quickly.

Yes, I’m certain that a lot of the population of the Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and Bahrain have suffered from oppressive regimes. I am also sure that is the case in Yemen, Palestine, Iraq and particularly in Iran, Sudan and Libya.  It is also the case that the percentage of the population under 30 years old in these countries – between 52% and 74% in those I listed above – means that there is a large ‘young generation’ some of whom desire change and want to ‘do it for themselves’.  The recent surge in internet usage in these countries has expanded from nothing 10 years ago to being probably the most important factor in this spell of regime change.

More of this in a moment. But first a tangent. Because I love me a tangent. These relatively peaceful uprisings seemed to have been celebrated in the UK and the US with a mixture of hippy ‘power to the people’ and right wing ‘power to the individuals’ and everything inbetween.  “Yay – the people overthrew them! And they did it without bloodshed!” Yes – yay indeed. But, firstly maybe we should wait a few months and see who takes over the power void and how they go by it before we go nuts with optimism. Secondly, although what has been going on most recently in Libya has obviously soured this euphoria slightly, how much of the relatively peaceful part of these uprisings has to do with the restraint of the military? Everyone loves a David vs Goliath story – the big bad institution vs  the plucky individual. The real world simply isn’t like this. How many of the soldiers have friends and family members who can no longer afford basic foodstuffs? It’s not rocket science. So, kudos to you big bad army people and to your leaders too. It’s braver not to start the fight when you have the bigger guns. Tangent over.

Anyway, back to the internet thing – the sheer speed at which this ‘revolutionary zeal’ has spread through the world is utterly remarkable and absolutely down to the fact that this generation can immediately see what is going on in their neighbouring countries simply by logging onto their laptops and not only seeing the news from outlets all over the world, but by contacting their friends on Facebook and Twitter and using them to organise demonstrations. None of this was available 10 years ago. For further proof of this look no further than China banning LinkedIn immediately after protests were organised using it this last week.

It’s truly fascinating. I now expect that “The Social Network 2” will be a sprawling epic, based from North Africa across the Middle East and hopefully with Mark Zuckerberg in a vastly reduced role.  It will not be based in Europe where, despite the recent protests in Greece, enough people generally realise their troubles are by and large absolutely of their own making. “What do you mean I can’t enter a Greek public sector job at 18, work 20 years and retire on a full pension anymore?  It’s sooo unfair! Overthrow the government!  It must be their fault!”

However, the internet did not cause all of this – it merely accelerated the spread of change across the world. So what did cause this?

60 minutes here in the US would have us believe it was a stall owner in a small town in Tunisia that ‘had enough’ and set light to himself in the street to protest at how poor he was. His friends were so outraged that they ended up organising mass demonstrations which directly led to the overthrowing of the government and spread to cause revolution across oppressed countries all over the world and now everyone will live happily ever after…  (let’s ignore the bit in Tunisia where people are now protesting at the interim government – which is all of three weeks old – because their lives aren’t perfect yet and concentrate on how “it was Facebook wot won it”).

So what is more likely? That this sudden surge of regime change came from decades of oppression, corruption and all round dissatisfaction from a population with a lack of choice in who runs their countries and that all this was romantically triggered by a flash mob uprising in Tunisia?  Or was it simply because those same oppressed people couldn’t afford to eat anymore?

The simple yet admittedly boring answer, at least when compared to Mark Zuckerburg saving the world, is that all this was triggered by that most basic of desires – to eat. Demand and supply – the most simple economics. Remind me again why we don’t teach this stuff to every child?  Why is economics not in the basic curriculum in the UK? A lot of those who have grown up without this in their basic education think that economics is about money. It’s not – it’s about what’s going on right now across North Africa and the Middle East. It’s about what’s happening in Bahrain.

In Bahrain, where in a week’s time the opening round of the F1 World Championship will no longer take place.  F1 has taken the decision that it is better to leave the country to, in the words of Bernie Ecclestone, “heal”.

So, in front of my sister in Melbourne a fortnight later, this new Lotus Renault will debut in it’s black and gold livery.

For those of us who have been watching F1 for a long time this is a pretty evocative paint job. You see, there was a time when F1 cars looked different from each other, and that difference was not only because of their sponsors colours and decals. The last car that raced in these colours was Ayrton Senna’s John Player Special 1986 Lotus. The last car that won a World Championship in these colours, a 1978 Lotus 79, began life racing against a six-wheel Tyrrell P34 and a Brabham BT46 ‘fan car’ (more on this later). They looked completely different – if you painted them all black and removed all sponsorship, you would have had no difficulty in picking out which car was which.

You would certainly have difficulty today.  In fact, a German magazine did just this exercise in 2008 using graphical software – only 1 of the 22 F1 drivers that year could pick out all 11 cars without their fancy makeup.

Before we get to the reason why, let’s map the changes basic changes to F1 cars over the years. We’ll take a Ferrari from each half decade starting in 1960.  I’ve chosen Ferraris firstly because they’ve been around that long and secondly because they’ve always been painted red which helps in comparison.

It’s 1960 – Front engined. Thin wheels. Enormous steering wheel.  No seatbelts. Six drivers have been killed in the last two years.

It’s 1965 (ok, 1966) – Rear engined. Fat wheels. Seatbelts and roll bars. Exhausts – cooool! Held together with blu-tac. Wolfgang Von Trips has already been killed in an earlier version of this car and Lorenzo Bandini will die in one next year at Monaco.

It’s 1970 – Front ‘aerofoils’ and rear wings. Made from paper mache. Fuel tanks exploded if you looked at them the wrong way. You had more chance of surviving the Battle of Britain in a pink Spitfire than a full season in one of these.  The list of fatalities and serious injuries (particularly burns) is horrifically long.

It’s 1975 – Proper front and rear wings increase downforce sticking the car to the ground better. Rollbar and sidepods aerodynamically designed to guide airflow efficiently and into the engine to cool it. Still seemingly built specifically with the specific intention of burning the driver to death, which this car will (just) fail to do to Niki Lauda next year.

It’s 1980 –  and ugh…  sorry. Bigger engines in the back push forward the drivers. Front and rear wing configurations played around with to try and increase downforce. You can’t see it here but this car had a flat bottom and ‘skirts’ along the side at track level to suck the car to the ground to increase grip.  That’s until they lost grip, at which point they would tend to throw their driver a few hundred feet into the countryside. The driver pictured below, Giles Villeneuve, will suffer this fate in less than two years time.

It’s 1985 – Skirts banned.  Carbon Fibre monocoques keep the driver safer and soft fuel cells mean less fires, but the huge engines with turbos attached push forward the drivers so much that you wonder where their feet go (the answer is in front of the front axel – meaning if you crash head-on your legs don’t do so well). Huge rear wings and sidepods to cool the engines. No one has died at an F1 meeting since 1982.

It’s 1990 – Ahhh, pretty.  Back to normal aspiration (no turbos) meaning roughly half the horsepower of two years before, regulation changes limit everything to do with the aerodynamics meaning front and back wings in particular are limited in size.  Driver further back for safety (compare this to 5 years before!).

It’s 1995 – This Ferrari was one of the last cars of it’s era not to have a ‘raised nose’ (see all the cars the followed it).  Note the little ‘winglet’ in front of the front suspension to ‘clean’ the airflow beyond the struts.  Last year, For the first time since 1982, an F1 meeting witnessed a fatality when Roland Ratzenburger and Aryton Senna were killed – note the sides of the cockpit have been raised to protect the driver’s heads as a direct result.

It’s 2000 – Raised nose.  Thinner cars due to regulations.  More winglets, smaller sidepods. Engines smaller and lighter.

It’s 2005 – Err..  more winglets?

It’s 2010 –  Err…  even more winglets?

And here is every other Ferrari from the last decade:

I have no idea whether they are in chronological order or not. And does it matter? Minor changes in sponsorship aside they look the same right?

Oh, not one driver has been killed driving an F1 car since May 1994.

I am not morbidly interested in driver deaths. The reason I stress the changes in safety is the fact that increasing design regulation largely introduced to protect driver safety (along with limiting costs) has meant that all F1 cars have basically looked the same for the last decade. The single downside of increased driver safety has been the lack of difference between today’s cars.

The only way of differentiating between F1 cars today is therefore their colours, which is why I’m pleased with this year’s black and gold JPS-style Lotus Renault. Today’s cars may be pretty and they may not.  I don’t really care as they’re so ubiquitous that it’s very difficult to get excited about it.

There is also an old adage that says ‘the better the car looks the faster it goes’. Now, this makes as much sense as the basketball rule that says the better the player’s name is the better the player – the starters on the NBA 2011 All-Star teams: Lebron, Amare, Dwyane, Derrick, Dwight, Carmelo, Kobe, Yao…  Chris and Kevin. Anyway, it’s nonsense frankly, but the fact is that a lot of the cars below were also very successful. F1 cars are not designed to look great, if they do it’s a bonus.

Other than that, like anything else aesthetic, it’s all in the eye of the beholder (how else can one explain Barbra Streisand?). So, in the eye of this beholder (in some kind of order because it has to be a list) here are my favorites ever:

10: The 1979 Brabham BT 46

It raced once and won and was then banned forever more. That giant fan type thing at the back under the wing was supposedly for engine cooling but was in fact simply an exhaust for the main fan which was under the car, sucking it to the ground.  Regardless, I like it a lot.  It was designed by Gordon Murray.

9: The 1975 Lotus 72

To me, the quintessential 1970’s Lotus.  Huge airbox above the engine.  Big rear wing held on tiny struts way behind the chassis.

6 (equal): The 1988 Mclaren MP4-4 and 1989 McLaren MP4-5

Gordon Murray again. Twice more. Two of the most dominant F1 cars in history driven by the two most dominant drivers providing two World Championships in two years. Clean simple lines and I love the sharks fin end plates on the front wing.  When I drew an F1 car as a kid – this is what it looked like.

5: The 1975 Brabham BT44b

Gordon Murray again (I only found this out afterwards – so it’s not on purpose). Cool. The best front wing ever, the best airbox ever, and just look at the size of those rear wheels… Underpowered against the Ferrari, it finished 2nd in the constructors championship.

4: The 1991 Jordan 191

Maybe the outright prettiest F1 car ever.  Beautiful curves an slopes everywhere. Jordan were a tiny team and this car, along with the first F1 drive of a certain Herr Schumacher, was a huge success.

3: The 1969 Lotus 49b

For these two photos of Graham Hill at Nurburgring alone. The late 60’s F1 car. Won the driver’s and constructors championship in 1968.

2: The 1983 Brabham BT52

The coolest, sexiest, fastest looking F1 car ever.  The thing looked looked like a rocket ship on wheels. Pointy, angular and fire breathing. The fire breath came from Castrol, who provided some ‘special’ fuel they developed during 1983 (reported to have caused skin cancer on contact which ceased development after the season) which did this (below) to it’s BMW engine and powered Nelson Piquet to the championship. Oh, Gordon Murray designed this car as well.

1: The 1990 Ferrari 641

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in NY put this Ferrari 641 on exhibition. That kinda kills the conversation as to whether this can be considered art if you ask me. To me, it’s the most beautiful F1 car ever.

The Jordan 191 is the most modern car on this list. 1991. I searched long and hard for for a post 1991 car that was deserving, but the closest I got was a 2007 McLaren, but this would have been mostly for the bizarre aerodynamics and silver and red paint job.  It’s still was fundamentally the same as every other car out there.  The best looking car of it’s generation? Maybe. One of the top 10 ever? No.

I also – I’m sure criminally in the eyes of some – ignored anything with no wings (basically pre-1967). To me, F1 cars have wings. My list.

So is it the regulations that have killed the art of F1?  What would happen if we did away with he regulations?  What would an F1 car look like then? Adrian Newey, designer of last year’s championship winning Red Bull (and also my sister’s 7th favorite person of all time), was asked to design this F1 car in a world with more relaxed rules for the video game Gran Turismo 5.  This is what he came up with. The Red Bull X1.

Is it better looking than today’s F1 cars?

I guess the real point is that in an F1 world with less regulations another designer would at least come up with something totally different.

What I want most of all is some balance between ensuring – as far as is possible – we maintain and improve driver safety but also allow enough slack in the regulations so that designers still have room for ideas. Ideas that result in change beyond more efficient winglets. I’m bored of the way the 21st century F1 car looks.

Give the designers freedom to change please; freedom to progress. I am certain the beauty would come as a happy by-product.

  1. carol murphy says:

    Great blog – and some random thoughts in response …
    Don’t be too quick to rap people over the knuckles for wanting things to be good today. It may be a ‘hippy’ notion, but today is really all we can be sure of and if today isn’t good – whether it’s because the car battery is dead (as in my case), or there isn’t enough to eat (far too large a percentage of the world population) or F1 designers don’t have enough freedom for their ideas (a handful of talented people) – each of us in our own way is probably going to try and do something about it. The choices may not be wise or popular or constructive, and so the following day may not be good either. That shouldn’t stop anyone from trying. But if today is good, beauty is not a happy by-product – it’s the whole day. xx

  2. Travis says:

    JPS 1978 is the nicest.

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